July 21, 2014

Summer Internship - Lauren Penley '15 at Maritime Aquarium

Rising Senior Lauren Penley, a key member of the Hornet women's basketball team, had an interesting internship this summer. Here is a summary of her experiences in her own words.

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In order to become a veterinarian, you need to experience working with animals in a variety of fields. Previous summers, I've worked at a small animal hospital which included dogs and cats and on two different large animal farms, containing cows and horses.  However, this summer, I wanted to experience something unique, and accepting an internship at an aquarium seemed like the perfect opportunity. I received an internship at the beautiful Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, Connecticut.

This aquarium is not your average aquarium. While it does contain many aquatic species, some land animals inhabit it as well. The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk focuses on the Long Island Sound and beyond, incorporating sharks, stingrays, jellyfish, harbor seals, meerkats, reef fish, sea turtles, frogs, reptiles, and other several species of fish. I worked with a different aquarist each day of the week and got to experience each section of the aquarium multiple times throughout the three months.  Within this aquarium, it was divided into seven sections, including temperate, jellies, seals and otters, shark and rays, frogs and reptiles, reserves, and tropical.

Each intern was assigned to an aquarist each morning and assisted them throughout the day. Each day started with food preparation at seven in the morning – the amount of food to prepare depended on the section I was assigned. Becoming experienced with a knife and cutting fish, food preparation ranged from forty-five minutes to three hours. After the early morning kitchen duties were complete, it was time to get the exhibits ready for the public.
Most of the cleaning work was aimed to be done before the aquarium opened at ten o'clock; however if it was not complete, the work was finished behind the scenes throughout the day. Morning checks were always mandatory before beginning the dirty work. This included checking the temperature of all of the tanks, the water level, the filtration, the air circulation, the décor, and the condition of all of the animals. No matter which section I was assigned, almost all fish tanks required some work every single day and varied between scrubbing algae off the side of the tanks, off the décor, and off the windows, hydro vacuuming the sand, rocks, or gravel, changing sock filters, and water changing the tanks. Many animals were fed multiple times a day. Water quality is crucial for animals' survival and therefore, ammonia, salinity, and pH were constantly tested just about every day. Alkalinity and nitrite tests were also ran in order to keep the water within a healthy state. For the sea turtles, meerkats, and the otter, enrichments were necessary every day. Enrichments stimulated the mental and physical aspects of the animals. All of the cleaning and maintenance of the tanks and exhibits are to help make them pretty to the public, but it is also to keep the animals healthy and alive while in the aquarium.

This internship also allowed me to experience some activities that I would not have had without the aquarium. I was able to go horseshoe crab tagging with other interns and a local news crew at six in the morning. We found four horseshoe crabs, tagged them, recorded data such as their tag number, condition, and length, and released them back into the water. The survival of this species is important to scientific advancements thanks to its unique blood. Another once in a lifetime experience was going collecting in the Atlantic Ocean. From Norwalk, Connecticut, we traveled to Long Island, New York and collected new fish for the aquarium in the ocean.  Using a seine net, a couple aquarists, another intern, and I walked about thirty yards out into the water and collected several species of fish in one round.  After going several rounds in one day, we brought back burr fish, puffer fish, cunner fish, shrimp, goat fish, seahorses, pipe fish, tautogs, juvenile flounder, blue crabs, spider crabs, and American eels. Once they were brought back to the aquarium, all of the fish go under quarantine until they are healthy enough to go out to exhibit. 

As the summer went on, the aquarists gave me more and more responsibility and allowed me to do tasks all on my own. There were a couple of days I was given a list of tasks that needed to be completely by the end of the day. I was honored to have the opportunity to do unique jobs by myself and with other aquarists. I was able to set up the meerkat exhibit by myself, made the meerkats their birthday cake, fed an otter, swam with a barracuda and juvenile sand tiger sharks, gave the nurse sharks their medicine and fed them, and assisted the mammal trainer with harbor seal training. My internship at the Maritime Aquarium was an unforgettable experience. I absolutely loved it, and would not have traded this experience for anything.